A strong message weakly presented.

LOVE IS LOVE

A heartfelt affirmation of queer love.

A first-person text presents several children, all wearing rainbow-heart T-shirts, grappling with others’ homophobia. It then documents their eventual movement toward pride in their families, simply by talking through their hurts and then arriving at the conclusion that “Love is the same. Wherever you live. Whoever you are. And whomever you love.” Even as the different children talk about being teased for having gay parents (the word “gay” is used as a default or umbrella term, with no instances of words such as “queer,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” etc.) or feeling otherwise targeted, the illustrations also start to show kites in the distance, first red, then orange, then yellow, and so on. These kites end up forming a heart in rainbow colors in the sky when the various children and their families come together at the end of the book. Before arriving at this point, it’s often quite difficult to follow the shifts between characters, as the illustrations pair the text with diverse children in clearly different locales without indicating that a new child is the speaker. Obviously intending inclusion, the images seem to attempt both universality and specificity at the same time, to frustrating effect. There’s no story to speak of, but the clear message is underscored by extensive backmatter with conversation prompts and further affirmation of queer families and identity.

A strong message weakly presented. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-9397-7513-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little Pickle Press

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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Inspiration, shrink wrapped.

WHAT THE ROAD SAID

From an artist, poet, and Instagram celebrity, a pep talk for all who question where a new road might lead.

Opening by asking readers, “Have you ever wanted to go in a different direction,” the unnamed narrator describes having such a feeling and then witnessing the appearance of a new road “almost as if it were magic.” “Where do you lead?” the narrator asks. The Road’s twice-iterated response—“Be a leader and find out”—bookends a dialogue in which a traveler’s anxieties are answered by platitudes. “What if I fall?” worries the narrator in a stylized, faux hand-lettered type Wade’s Instagram followers will recognize. The Road’s dialogue and the narration are set in a chunky, sans-serif type with no quotation marks, so the one flows into the other confusingly. “Everyone falls at some point, said the Road. / But I will always be there when you land.” Narrator: “What if the world around us is filled with hate?” Road: “Lead it to love.” Narrator: “What if I feel stuck?” Road: “Keep going.” De Moyencourt illustrates this colloquy with luminous scenes of a small, brown-skinned child, face turned away from viewers so all they see is a mop of blond curls. The child steps into an urban mural, walks along a winding country road through broad rural landscapes and scary woods, climbs a rugged metaphorical mountain, then comes to stand at last, Little Prince–like, on a tiny blue and green planet. Wade’s closing claim that her message isn’t meant just for children is likely superfluous…in fact, forget the just.

Inspiration, shrink wrapped. (Picture book. 6-8, adult)

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26949-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

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